Wes Cronkite’s company, CPSI, makes software for the healthcare industry, and he has seen both health tech companies like his own and healthcare institutions grow their tech teams in recent years. That growth has created more jobs, demand for a broader spectrum of skills, and more places to work.
Roles in this field range from entry-level help desk positions to user experience designers to health informatics specialists at medical centers, physician practices, startup healthcare ventures, and vendor companies.
“There has been tremendous growth in healthcare IT, with work moving beyond supporting legacy systems and just keeping systems up and running. There has been a lot of innovation, and as a result, there is a lot of opportunity for talented [tech workers],” says Cronkite, CPSI’s chief innovation officer.
For hiring managers, such growth has made the hard task of finding qualified technologists even harder. But it has created more opportunities for tech pros looking to enter or advance their careers by moving into healthcare IT.
“We’re in an absolute staffing crisis when it comes to technology workers, particularly in healthcare, and we’ll take on great talent today even if they don’t have healthcare experience,” Cronkite says.
Job statistics focused specifically on the full range of positions that make up healthcare IT aren’t readily available. However, figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics provide some perspective. The BLS, which groups medical records and health information specialists together, puts job growth in this sector at 9% from 2020 to 2030. It predicts an average of 34,300 job openings annually for the decade, much of it due to workers leaving the field as they retire or transfer into other areas. The bureau also expects the field’s 416,400 positions in 2020 to add 37,100 new positions over the decade, for a total of 453,500 by 2030.
Statistics related to job growth in healthcare IT from Emsi Burning Glass, a labor market analytics firm, also provide insights into the field. The firm found that data engineer positions in this industry grew 122% from 2019 to 2022, data scientist positions grew 108% in those three years, web designer jobs grew 107%, mobile app developer jobs grew 73%, and user interface/user experience positions grew 52%. All of those figures are higher than the growth seen in those positions in other industries, according to firm researchers.
“All of healthcare is hiring,” says Thomas Vick, regional director for human resources consulting firm Robert Half. “And the open positions are really all-encompassing. All the facilities are hiring, research is hiring, and with the pandemic and more money being put into developing healthcare technologies, the product companies are hiring as well.”
Growing number of opportunities
The growing number of opportunities in healthcare IT is not a new trend.
The profession started to rapidly expand after the 2009 passage of the federal Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act. Better known as the HITECH Act, this law encouraged healthcare providers to demonstrate “meaningful use” of electronic medical records (EMRs), also known as electronic health records (EHRs). The law kicked off significant investments in EMR systems and other computer technologies.
Despite those investments, however, healthcare lagged other industries in digitalization throughout the 2010s.
That changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced hospitals and other healthcare organizations to rapidly upgrade their technology stacks, transform their operations, and become digital at scale. In response, healthcare tech vendors also ramped up development and delivery of the technologies the industry started to seek en masse.
Those trends created not only more healthcare IT jobs, but a wider spectrum of roles, says Frank Myeroff, managing partner with Direct Recruiters, where healthcare IT is one of its largest and busiest practice areas.
Medical centers and hospitals that several years ago were focused on deploying EMRs and integrating them with other systems have broadened their focus to include secure remote care delivery, video connections, mobile capabilities for providers and patients, more digital services, the digitalization of more medical equipment, seamless patient experiences, and more innovation overall.
“And those all require different skills and different experiences from their technical workers,” Myeroff adds.
This digital transformation has been expanding the skills sought in healthcare tech workers, according to healthcare CIOs, recruiters, and industry analysts. They say that healthcare IT executives are seeking professionals who can develop digital platforms, who understand ecommerce, and who can work to secure all the interactions and systems.
The most in-demand skills
Most of the roles in healthcare IT are the same as those found in IT in other industries.
They include longstanding positions that make up the backbone of technology departments — positions such as programmer, software developer, project manager, network administrator, systems administrator, security analyst, and database administrator.
Like organizations in other industries, healthcare entities are also looking to hire technologists for more recent additions to the IT department lineup, including cloud architect, data scientist, and user experience designer.
Matt Ehrlich, executive director for healthcare services at TEKsystems, which provides consulting and managed services, says he and others are hiring for all those positions as well as for roles specializing in automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced analytics. He says those jobs are becoming increasingly important in the industry as healthcare seeks to make both its business operations and patient care more agile, efficient, and responsive.
Others say the industry is also hiring tech pros who can design mobile apps and user interfaces, as healthcare continues to build out its digital platforms connecting patients and providers.
And they say healthcare IT leaders are looking for technologists with strong interpersonal skills, such as the ability to collaborate, lead, and communicate. They want workers who are empathetic, too, a particularly valuable trait in an industry built on providing care to others.
Prerequisites often include “undergraduate, and in some settings, graduate degrees and certifications,” says Donna M. Roach, CIO at University of Utah Health (U of U Health). “These degrees can come from a variety of specialties, focusing on analytical skills and clinical backgrounds. In addition, some EHRs require builder certifications to develop within the system. Of course, a strong background in customer service and good communication skills are key attributes for new IT members.”
The healthcare sector does have some unique IT positions, such as those within healthcare informatics and those who work with EMR and clinical systems. For example, healthcare institutions with research divisions, pharmaceutical companies, and biotech firms need technologists who can work on laboratory information management systems (LIMS).
“There’s a lot of niche needs out there,” Ehrlich says.
Consequently, healthcare IT leaders have typically sought to hire candidates with experience in healthcare IT itself, Ehrlich and others say.
“Healthcare is fairly unique in how it’s recruiting for IT workers: In other areas they tend to look for tech skills and then domain expertise. In healthcare they need folks who have tech skills, but they’re more commonly looking for that domain-specific experience, the healthcare expertise,” says Will Markow, vice president of applied research for talent at Emsi Burning Glass.
Markow says the industry values experience because healthcare itself is such a unique field; its mission and its values vary from those in most other industries, while the rules and regulations governing it are often unlike those governing other entities.
Healthcare executives want IT workers skilled and experienced in specific domains such as EMRs, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and medical coding for insurance reimbursement, Markow says. They also often require IT workers to have earned healthcare IT-related certifications, such as those offered by healthcare software vendors or by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). And they also want technologists “to have a cursory understanding of the patient care experience so they can create solutions that enhance that experience,” Markow says.
“For those seeking a position in healthcare IT, it takes a combination of education, skillsets, and a desire to work in a fast-paced environment that is built on teamwork,” says JoAnn Klinedinst, HIMSS’ vice president for professional development.
Given all that, Ehrlich says it’s not uncommon for hiring managers to get very specific about the experience they want. Clinical research organizations, for example, have very specific regulations to follow as they go through drug discovery and then seek approval for new therapeutics from the US Food and Drug Administration. They often use niche systems to support those processes, so they seek workers experienced in the technologies being used — and sometimes even in supporting work in specific phases of the drug discovery and approval process.
Demand for such talent continues to exceed supply, according to industry insiders. (For reference, unemployment for IT professionals is less than 2%.)
“The state of the healthcare IT market is even tighter than the regular IT market,” U of U Health’s Roach says.
She cites a few reasons, including healthcare organizations’ “inability to compete at the higher wages that can be provided by for-profit companies and other technology sectors that can offer stock options and generally higher wages.” She herself has experienced that dynamic, saying that several analysts and technical staff were recruited away by companies offering several thousands of dollars more in annual salaries with additional benefits that she couldn’t beat with counteroffers.
Roach says the industry had also been slow to offer remote work options, although “mobility and flexibility are the new norm for the healthcare technology workforce.”
Healthcare IT also competes with other divisions within healthcare, she adds. “Professional positions also leverage clinical backgrounds — i.e., nursing, physicians, and pharmacists — as subject matter experts, clinical builders, trainers, etc.,” she says. “With the increasing demand for these clinical positions, these individuals are being recruited back to their clinical positions, leaving a deficit in a much-needed area.”
Those factors have opened doors for tech professionals and other candidates looking to enter healthcare IT, experts say.
“When we work with [clients to recruit workers], the question comes up whether healthcare IT experience is required. They used to always say yes, but now they say it’s preferred,” Myeroff says. “They’re being forced to hire less experienced people than they like. And that has opened up opportunities for people coming into the field. In the past when I was a CIO, I wouldn’t hire anyone who didn’t have healthcare experience. But it’s different today. They hire for skills and teach healthcare [industry specifics].”
Markow also sees this trend. “Employers are recognizing that those who have all the tech and domain experience they want don’t grow on trees,” he says. “They need IT workers who have both tech knowledge and healthcare knowledge, but they’re willing to sacrifice one or the other to get people in seats.”
Research from Emsi Burning Glass confirms that trend, showing that healthcare employers are almost twice as likely to hire someone without a bachelor’s degree for an IT job than other industries: 26% of health IT jobs are open to someone without a bachelor’s vs. 14% in the broader economy. And 28% of health IT jobs are open to entry-level workers vs. 21% in the broader economy.
“They’re willing to help workers grow,” Markow adds.
Klinedinst says entry-level positions in healthcare IT mirror those in other industries and include analyst, specialist, applications support, database administrator, and project assistant. (HIMSS maintains a list of health information and technology job descriptions.)
“Highly desirable skillsets like those involving cybersecurity, supply chain, data analysis, change management, ERP, and specific application certifications like Salesforce, Microsoft, Cisco, or others are highly desirable in health IT,” she adds.
Although healthcare IT leaders today are more open to hiring tech workers without industry-specific experience for entry-level positions and standard IT roles, Klinedinst and others say experience and industry-specific tech certifications remain crucial for landing senior and more specialized roles in the industry.
“At higher-level positions within healthcare IT, it does become a little bit more niche,” says Vick from Robert Half.
Even so, he and others say healthcare entities are more willing to invest in getting technologists the training they need to advance and build their careers in this field, making it an opportune time for candidates interested in healthcare IT to seek out those positions.
“It’s a candidate-driven market,” Vick says, “and so this is a good time to look at those opportunities.”